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Example: show don't tell

Harold Wilson

Normally, when people say, "Show, don't tell," they're talking about exposition.

But it's possible to do an even worse job, by including an "Author's note." Not a footnote, even, just a giant sink-hole in the middle of the story that will suck in the reader's suspension of disbelief and replace it with the screeching tires and crashing metal of a head-on collision between the author's enthusiasm and the reader's immersion.

Picture this: there's a guy, and another guy, and a bunch of girls. One guy is a professional race-car driver on the NASCAR circuit. Thus:

"We were brainstorming, trying to come up with ways to help raise money for the NASCAR Foundation," he explained.

[Author's note: the NASCAR Foundation is a charitable organization that raises money to support multiple charities, especially those helping children.]


Now, that's an example of what not to do. And here are some ways to not do it:

"We were brainstorming, trying to come up with ways to help raise money for the NASCAR Foundation," he explained. "The NASCAR Foundation is a charitable organization that raises money to support multiple charities, especially those helping children."

That wasn't quite pure exposition, since at least it was in a character's voice.

Or:

"We were brainstorming, trying to come up with ways to help raise money for the NASCAR Foundation - the NASCAR charitable organization," he explained.

Or:

"We were brainstorming, trying to come up with ways to help raise money for the NASCAR charity foundation," he explained.

Or:

"We were brainstorming, trying to come up with ways to help raise money for the NASCAR Foundation," he explained.

"What's that?" asked SomeGirl.

"That's the official charity of stock car racing, it's sponsored by NASCAR and run by them," he said.

This was kind of a low-hanging fruit, in that the telling is really obvious, and the showing too easy. But seriously, if you think about breaking the fourth wall to address the reader because they might not know something, then just have your dumbest character about the subject ask the question that you're afraid the reader might ask, and answer it within the story.

Dominions Son

@Harold Wilson

But seriously, if you think about breaking the fourth wall to address the reader because they might not know something


It can be very amusing when an actual character in the story breaks the fourth wall. See: Pool, Dead

Replies:   StarFleet Carl
StarFleet Carl

@Dominions Son

It can be very amusing when an actual character in the story breaks the fourth wall. See: Pool, Dead


Walters, Jennifer ... aka She-Hulk, did it well before Wade Wilson.

Ernest Bywater

@Harold Wilson

"We were brainstorming, trying to come up with ways to help raise money for the NASCAR Foundation," he explained. "The NASCAR Foundation is a charitable organization that raises money to support multiple charities, especially those helping children."


That technique fails terribly when all the people involved in the conversation already know what you need to tell the reader. An example of what I mean is in the story Shiloh two experienced Special Forces soldiers who know each other from being in the sand together are talking and one mentions Strelas. Both the characters involved already know exactly what a Strela is, but your average reader would have no idea. Thus the two characters wouldn't expand beyond the name, but the author needs to - and that's where a short note nearby is very handy. If you put it at the end of the chapter most readers will have forgotten about it unless the event is in the last 5% or so of the chapter. In a print book you'd place such a note at the end of the scene or the end of the page, whichever is closest to the material.

I do agree you shouldn't put in a lot of notes, but they should also be used where needed.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

That technique fails terribly when all the people involved in the conversation already know what you need to tell the reader. An example of what I mean is in the story Shiloh two experienced Special Forces soldiers who know each other from being in the sand together are talking and one mentions Strelas. Both the characters involved already know exactly what a Strela is, but your average reader would have no idea. Thus the two characters wouldn't expand beyond the name, but the author needs to - and that's where a short note nearby is very handy.

In that case, I'd have one of the two character remember, via a short flashback, his first encounter with a Strela, as a way of fleshing it out without having to rely on a damn footnote!

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Harold Wilson

Normally, when people say, "Show, don't tell," they're talking about exposition.


Technically, that's not telling. It's called "author intrusion."

It could be as simple as:

John lit up a cigarette. The Surgeon General found smoking cigarettes cause lung cancer. He coughed as soon as he took the first puff.


It's the second sentence that's author intrusion.

Keep in mind, in the past authors used to talk to their readers so there was nothing called author intrusion. Jane Austin did it all the time with something like:

Dear reader, if so-and-so only knew that...

Replies:   sejintenej
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

In that case, I'd have one of the two character remember, via a short flashback, his first encounter with a Strela, as a way of fleshing it out without having to rely on a damn footnote!


Or go for the laughs and have one of the characters break the fourth wall and explain it to the readers.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Or go for the laughs and have one of the characters break the fourth wall and explain it to the readers.

"We were brainstorming, trying to come up with ways to help raise money for the NASCAR Foundation," he explained. "The NASCAR Foundation is a charitable organization that raises money to support multiple charities, especially those helping children."

"You know, George, that's an example of author intrusion, and is something your creator should never do in the story of your life."

"You're absolutely right, Frank. I'm ready to dump this crappy story and go find some porn!"

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

No, that's no breaking the fourth wall. Breaking the fourth wall is having a character explicitly speak to the readers.

"We were brainstorming, trying to come up with ways to help raise money for the NASCAR Foundation," he explained.

Bob turned and looked over his shoulder.

"Hey you. Yes, you, the one reading this book. In case you didn't know it, the NASCAR Foundation is a charitable organization that raises money to support multiple charities, especially those helping children."

Bob turned back to look at Frank. "Where were we?"

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

via a short flashback, his first encounter with a Strela, as a way of fleshing it out without having to rely on a damn footnote!


Which will still break up the story flow at that point, while not giving the reader the opportunity to skip over the note. A flash back will also need a lot more words than a simple note.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Which will still break up the story flow at that point, while not giving the reader the opportunity to skip over the note. A flash back will also need a lot more words than a simple note.

Showing always uses more words than telling. That's why so many authors tell so much. Stating it "uses a lot more words" doesn't mean much. If it's worth including (and not including footnotes in a fictional story warrants serious consideration), you include it because it aids the story. It it doesn't, you cut it. Frankly, anything which hasn't been defined within the scope of the story should end up on the cutting room floor.

Footnotes are for history and science books, NOT fiction! How many novels currently on your bookshelf have footnotes?

We've discussed how to handle these situation ad nauseam, stating that authors should simply 'add a footnote' is simply giving new or uncertain authors terrible advice.

There are circumstances when footnotes may be required (such as when you're citing epigraph (quote) sources), but it's not something I would suggest as a matter of course.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Showing always uses more words than telling. That's why so many authors tell so much. Stating it "uses a lot more words" doesn't mean much.


Using excessive words to explain something simple that not everyone needs to know is more a waste of space than anything else.

If you ignore something odd readers don't like it, so you give them an explanation in as easy a way as possible. a one or two line note is much better than a five line flashback which will break up the story flow more than a note will.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

We've discussed how to handle these situation ad nauseam, stating that authors should simply 'add a footnote' is simply giving new or uncertain authors terrible advice.


No story should be buried in notes, but they should be used where the add to the story, and in as unobtrusive away as possible. It all comes back to what's best way to include the required information with the minimal disruption to the story and the reader.

sejintenej
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


John lit up a cigarette. The Surgeon General found smoking cigarettes cause lung cancer. He coughed as soon as he took the first puff.

It's the second sentence that's author intrusion.


That example could be cleaned up by joining the first two sentences by inserting "despite the" and changing "found" to "finding".

Dominion Son's suggestion about a flashback to explain Strela would cover the question well - I have seen this or similar used several times

As for foot notes - NO! A story I am currently reading has two (that I have seen). If I go to the chapter end to read the explanation I have extreme difficulty finding the original place again. I no longer bother which means that the author's well meaning explanation is ignored

Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

If I go to the chapter end to read the explanation I have extreme difficulty finding the original place again


Which is why I said it should be close to the actual text. I write in a 6 x 9 inch book format, and when I feel a note is needed it's at the bottom of the book page or the end of the scene, whichever is closest to the right text.

We haven't yet mentioned the Close out note those should go at the end of the chapter because there intention is to close out something relevant but not important enough to bring up again later, so you close it off. An example of that is in Mack at the end of the sub-chapter on his father's funeral I have a short 2 line note about the inquest into his father's funeral so I don't leave the readers wondering what happened about it.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

Dominion Son's suggestion about a flashback


Personally, I find a flashback in the middle of a story very disturbing and they break up the story too much. I've used a flashback at the start or the end of a story, but work hard to avoid having any within the story. I've seen too many good stories destroyed because a flashback disrupted it too much.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@sejintenej

Dominion Son's suggestion about a flashback to explain Strela would cover the question well - I have seen this or similar used several times


CW suggested the flashback. I suggested having one of the characters do a fourth wall break and speak to the reader directly.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

Using excessive words to explain something simple that not everyone needs to know is more a waste of space than anything else.


That's why you don't show all the time. "Show don't tell" does not mean never tell.

If someone steps outside you might tell the reader it's snowing hard. But if the blizzard is an integral part of the story/action, you show it.

REP

I don't recall the scene in which Strela is mentioned in Shiloh Two. An alternative to handling how to define what a Strela is to the reader, would be to have a character state something like: "Manpackable missiles can be useful, but I'm glad I'm not the one having to carry it around."

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej

@REP

would be to have a character state something like: "Manpackable missiles can be useful, but I'm glad I'm not the one having to carry it around."

Blood* heavy missiles the idiots want us to carry along with all our other ammo

Replies:   REP
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Using excessive words to explain something simple that not everyone needs to know is more a waste of space than anything else.

I wasn't dictating the techniques use, merely offering it as an option if you wanted an opportunity to delve into the characters background. It was simply another way of getting to the same point.

That said, your use of footnotes is valid in select cases. I just wouldn't recommend it, as it's not a widely recognized usage in modern fiction. As you noted, it's also easily overlooked (missed) and tends to yank readers out of the story, all of which argue against it's use. Thus I'd work hard to avoid using it, even if it requires more text.

REP

@sejintenej

all our other ammo


Infantry are nothing but pack mules, so don't forget the food and water. If other ammo was not a reference to it, add in your share of the SAW ammo and motor rounds, if needed. :)

Replies:   sejintenej
madnige

@sejintenej

If I go to the chapter end to read the explanation I have extreme difficulty finding the original place again.

Easy online: click-n-drag to select a visually large (about four lines, maybe more) chunk of text at the original place, scroll to the end note and read it, DON'T CLICK or else you will loose your place, scroll back up to easily find the selected block of text, continue reading.

Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

Dominion Son's suggestion about a flashback to explain Strela would cover the question well - I have seen this or similar used several times

Sorry, but DS may take exception to that, as I was the one who suggested it.

If I go to the chapter end to read the explanation I have extreme difficulty finding the original place again. I no longer bother which means that the author's well meaning explanation is ignored

Maybe we should petition Lazeez to include abbr or abbreviation tag (so when you pause over a reference, an explanation will pop up like you see on Amazon). That would certainly be a useful addition, while not likely to be overused.

Still, it's more coding for something which wouldn't be widely used. :(

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Sorry, but DS may take exception to that, as I was the one who suggested it.


You're slow, I already took exception to it. :)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

We haven't yet mentioned the Close out note those should go at the end of the chapter because there intention is to close out something relevant but not important enough to bring up again later, so you close it off. An example of that is in Mack at the end of the sub-chapter on his father's funeral I have a short 2 line note about the inquest into his father's funeral so I don't leave the readers wondering what happened about it.

Again, that's the wrong place/way to include it, and however short it may be, it amounts to an 'info dump', rather than including it as a part of the larger story.

I typically wrap up any loose ends in my story in my epilogues (which many authors don't use, as they're generally restricted to sci-fi and historical dramas), but I fold them into a general recollection of what happened after the close of the story. That's a fitting way of detailing what happened to individual orphaned story threads.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Personally, I find a flashback in the middle of a story very disturbing and they break up the story too much. I've used a flashback at the start or the end of a story, but work hard to avoid having any within the story. I've seen too many good stories destroyed because a flashback disrupted it too much.

A flashback needn't be a huge endeavor.

John reflected on his first encounter with the Strela. He was a new recruit, recently stationed to the planet's surface, and ...

It can be as simple as a couple lines to a few paragraphs, without yanking the reader out of the current story setting, and does help to shed new light on individual actors and their motivations.

While difficult to pull off, you shouldn't avoid it simply because it's been badly handled in the past.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

You're slow, I already took exception to it. :)

No one's ever accused me of being quick on the uptake, which is why I keep trying techniques most authors studiously avoid. However, what I excess in is providing insights which others simply never notice, which often provide alternate story threads.

Besides, I don't camp out on the site (despite all appearances to the contrary), so for these longer threads, I'll often address a couple days posts all at once, moving chronologically through them all instead of trying to remember the various points I wanted to argue until the very end. (which is why I have so many posts running together)

madnige

@Crumbly Writer

How many novels currently on your bookshelf have footnotes?


All of George MccDonald Fraser's Flashman novels (which admittedly are historical fiction) have footnotes (actually endnotes - collected at the end of the book), and I have eleven of the twelve of them (though they're packed away at present as the bookshelves were dismantled for decorating). You don't need to read the notes, but they fill in the historical background or give the true history when Flashman 'misremembers' some event, so add considerably to the richness of the story. I'd often flick to the back of the book to read the note, with a finger jammed in the current page so I'd not loose my place.

Replies:   sejintenej
richardshagrin

VeryWellAged in his stories about the Philippines uses footnotes, most of the time to translate what a character has said in a local language. Many of his stories are here on SOL, most of his latest stories are on ASSTR since he uses girls under 14 as characters involving sex. The ASSTR ones also use highlighted words to take you to another site, for example to give a recipe for a Philippine dish in the story or an advertisement for a location or vehicle mentioned in the story. The footnotes in the chapter are collected at the end of each chapter in numerical order.

Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

VeryWellAged in his stories about the Philippines uses footnotes, most of the time to translate what a character has said in a local language. Many of his stories are here on SOL, most of his latest stories are on ASSTR since he uses girls under 14 as characters involving sex. The ASSTR ones also use highlighted words to take you to another site, for example to give a recipe for a Philippine dish in the story or an advertisement for a location or vehicle mentioned in the story. The footnotes in the chapter are collected at the end of each chapter in numerical order.

That's another valid use for footnotes (or end-of-chapter notes), though I'd treat them as I do character lists, placing them at the end of the story, or as the first chapter while posting so readers can always look up words (or characters) they can't remember. If necessary, they can always open two simultaneous webpages in side-by-side tabs.

My argument with Ernest, is listing something he should have included in the story is a losing strategy, as few readers will ever glance at it (and will thus never understand the reference). In my own not-so humble opinion, it's worth wasting several pages just to create the context to understand something he can't be bothered explained in context.

sejintenej

@REP


Infantry are nothing but pack mules, so don't forget the food and water.

You allow your PBI to carry food?? Water??? They can't kill the Boche, Krauts, Nips, ragheads etc by slinging bread rolls at them and the water treatment is restricted to Guantanamo ;-)

Replies:   REP  Ernest Bywater
sejintenej

@madnige

I'd often flick to the back of the book to read the note, with a finger jammed in the current page so I'd not loose my place.

I'm a bit short on fiction - a couple which are required ownership and requiring detailed historical knowledge but the rest of my books are non-fiction.

One of the latter, by Chateaubriand seems full of footnotes;
pp1 - 86 description of a visit to Jerusalem
pp87 - 176 notes to go with the above!!!!!

pp177 - 259 a visit to America - text
pp261 - 290 notes on the above.

pp291 - 417 he does not call them notes but desription of how "savages" live, hunting etc. etc.

pp418 - 431 text - the Spanish Republics with no notes etc..

In another book I think every page has footnotes except where a footnote extends into 3 or so pages!!!! Many of those footnotes really belong in the non-existant Bibliography

sejintenej

@richardshagrin

***** in his stories about the Philippines uses footnotes, most of the time to translate what a character has said in a local language. Many of his stories are here on SOL, ..................

There is a story on SOL about a freelance businessman who is employed to research and then ramrod the building of a factory in the Philippines. He gets round the language problem by taking his secretary with him; he was there before (? as a GI?) and has to explain everything to her.
Good story if you can find it but a Philippine acquaintance make me wonder about some of the accuracy

REP

@sejintenej

They can't kill the Boche, Krauts, Nips, ragheads etc by slinging bread rolls at them


True, but they can force feed them MREs. :)

sejintenej

@REP

sejintenej

They can't kill the Boche, Krauts, Nips, ragheads etc by slinging bread rolls at them

True, but they can force feed them MREs. :)

R E P You are seriously bad for my health - I'm laughing myself sick and I thought I was neutral if not on the forces of good

Dominions Son

@REP

True, but they can force feed them MRE


Ah yes, the MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), three lies for the price of one. :)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@sejintenej

They can't kill the Boche, Krauts, Nips, ragheads etc by slinging bread rolls at them


You're lucky to have not tried any of the rolls baked by my ex-wife - they can be used as deadly projectiles. The crusts were so hard they could almost be used as armour.

Replies:   REP
REP

@Ernest Bywater

rolls baked by my ex-wife


Were they like a bun in the oven? :)

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@REP

Were they like a bun in the oven? :)


No, crusted rolls with crusts like armour plate.

Replies:   Capt. Zapp
Capt. Zapp

@Ernest Bywater

No, crusted rolls with crusts like armour plate.


You mean the kind that, if they rolled off the table and landed on your foot, would break your toe?

Ernest Bywater

@Capt. Zapp


You mean the kind that, if they rolled off the table and landed on your foot, would break your toe?


and the rest of the foot.

Dominions Son

@Capt. Zapp

You mean the kind that, if they rolled off the table and landed on your foot, would break your toe?


No, the kind that if they rolled off the table they would break the floor. :)

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Ah yes, the MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), three lies for the price of one. :)

When I came back home (to where my parents settled), my mother took the opportunity to clean out her pantry, feeding me everything she wouldn't eat herself. That included 20-year-old pudding mixes and 30-year-old MRE (left over from Vietnam, which my father collected to use while hunting). Luckily, he didn't bother with the MRE meals, but rather the snacks, which aren't as bad and are relatively easy to eat.

Replies:   Capt. Zapp
Capt. Zapp
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


...30-year-old MRE (left over from Vietnam...


Vietnam era 'canned meals' were actually MCIs and referred to as C-Rations altough they were not the same as the original C-rations developed in the 1930s, or LRPs.

WWII era were K-Rations (1942-1948) and included 3 meals

MREs were not issued until 1981.

richardshagrin

@Capt. Zapp

"The biscuits in the Army, they say are mighty fine, one rolled off the table and killed a friend of mine. Oh, I don't want no more of Army Life, Gee Dad I wanta go home."

Replies:   Capt. Zapp  sejintenej
richardshagrin

Gee, Mom, I Want to Go Home

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from The Biscuits in the Army)

Jump to: navigation, search

"Army Life"

Song by Lead Belly

Released
1944

Genre
Novelty song

Length
1:48

Writer(s)
Traditional, Gitz Rice credited

"Gee, Mom, I Want to Go Home" (also known as "I Don't Want No More of Army Life") is a traditional, humorous song satirizing life in the Armed Forces. Each verse has two lines relating what recruits are told, followed by an exaggerated description of the fact. For example:
The biscuits in the ArmyThey say are mighty fine,One rolled off the tableAnd killed a pal of mine.
The original song was sung by Canadian soldiers during World War II. With original chorus
"Oh, I don't want no more of army lifeGee ma, I wanna goback to OntarioGee ma, I wanna go ho_o_ome!"
The song occurs in several variations, the lyrics being adapted for the different branches of the Armed Forces, and it has been transformed into a camp song as well.[1]
"

Capt. Zapp

@richardshagrin

"The biscuits in the Army, they say are mighty fine, one rolled off the table and killed a friend of mine. Oh, I don't want no more of Army Life, Gee Dad I wanta go home."


Glad you got the reference. I remember using it as a cadence during my basic training.

sejintenej

@richardshagrin

@Capt Zapp"The biscuits in the Army, they say are mighty fine, one rolled off the table and killed a friend of mine.

To link two of Richard's contributions, my first job was in the back of beyond on the Swedish arctic border. We were fed pemmican (pure fat) and rock hard biscuits like those he described - 6000calories or so per day.

Coming home we got off the ship at some tiny village for two hours which we spent marching in two lines across (the streets were too narrow for one line) singing our own cadence which was once popular
"Show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed, I had a little drink about an hour ago ....."
60 plus of us at 2am but sober :-( !!

Replies:   Capt. Zapp
Capt. Zapp

@sejintenej

"Show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed, I had a little drink about an hour ago ....."


I remember that one as well.

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